Human-Animal Hybrids: Are UK Scientists Going Too Far?

Scientists in British labs have created over 150 human-animal hybrid embryos in the past three years, which has caused concern that led to a call for major oversight from the Academy of Medical Sciences over animals containing human materials (ACHM).

In 2007, licenses from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) were granted to three labs in the UK – King’s College London, Newcastle University and Warwick University – to create hybrid embryos, or cytoplasmic hybrids. Scientists claimed that they were working toward creating stem cells that could be used to study a number of diseases and disorders, such as HIV, cancer, infertility, Alzheimers and hepatitis, among others.

Since then “a variety of hybrids, including an animal egg fertilised by a human sperm; ‘cybrids’, in which a human nucleus is implanted into an animal cell; and ‘chimeras’, in which human cells are mixed with animal embryos” have been created, reports the Daily Mail.

By law, embryos containing mostly human material have to be destroyed after 14 days, but there is no regulation for those containing mostly animal material. Concerns have also been raised over inserting human genetic material into animals to create a humanized animal model.

Human liver cells in mice, single human gene implantation, pigs with human blood, mice with human brain cellsand, of course, that unforgettable mouse with the human ear growing off of its back. Hybrid experimentation is nothing new, monkey organs grown in sheep, glowing monkeys with jellyfish DNA, but it is cause for serious ethical debate. The creation of chimeras, not the same as hybrids, has been banned in Canada, but there is no federal oversight in the U.S.

In its report, Animals Containing Human Material, the academy acknowledged the fast moving pace of science and use of ACHM, but raised concerns over this type of research growing and extending to areas that surpass current regulatory and ethical boundaries, stating:

Experiments that were of concern to both the public and scientific community focus on research studies involving modification of the animal brain that could potentially lead to human-like ‘cerebral’ function, experiments that might lead to fertilization of human eggs or sperm in an animal; and modification of an animal to create characteristics perceived as uniquely human, such as facial shape, skin texture or speech.

The report also calls for a three-tiered approach to experiments, the first would include animal experiments taking place under current regulations, the second category would include experiments “subject to scrutiny” by the panel of recommended experts and the last would include experiments that should not be allowed “at least until the potential consequences are more fully understood.” No one is, however, currently aware of anything that would fall into the last category.

“The fear is that if you start putting very large numbers of human brain cells into the brains of primates suddenly you might transform the primate into something that has some of the capacities that we regard as distinctively human… speech, or other ways of being able to manipulate or relate to us,” said Professor Thomas Baldwin, a member of the Academy of Medical Sciences in the Telegraph.

“These possibilities that are at the moment largely explored in fiction we need to start thinking about now.”

Many examining the issue are drawing comparisons to Frankenstein, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the Island of Dr. Moreau. The issues being broached will not go away or become more simplified, but become more complicated as science advances.

Questions are raised about what, exactly, an animal with human tissues is. Should it have rights? Does creating chimeras diminish human dignity? Is crossing the species barrier morally wrong? Is the confused and uncomfortable feeling that many have over the subject enough to indicate the line is being crossed? Will it be too late by the time anyone realizes the implications of what’s been done? Do animals have the right to live without having their integrity violated?

Lord Alton, likened it to “dabbling in the grotesque.”

‘I argued in Parliament against the creation of human- animal hybrids as a matter of principle. None of the scientists who appeared before us could give us any justification in terms of treatment,” he said.

“At every stage the justification from scientists has been: if only you allow us to do this, we will find cures for every illness known to mankind. This is emotional blackmail.Of the 80 treatments and cures which have come about from stem cells, all have come from adult stem cells – not embryonic ones.”

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has called for a moratorium on genetically modified animals in response to the report, noting that many animals “suffer due to the painful and debilitating conditions” that result as a part of genetic modification.

“In our submission to the Government on implementing its promised strategy to reduce animal experiments, we have proposed a moratorium on the genetic modification of animals. The AMS statement demonstrates that even researchers feel uneasy when animals are genetically modified to ‘humanise’ them. This modification is also an acknowledgment that animals are an unreliable guide to human physiology. We need to move beyond the outdated animal ‘model’ and take a lead in research with human scientific alternatives,” said Buav Chief Executive Michelle Thew.

Related Stories:

Arizona Bans Creation of Human-Animal Hybrids

Urgent: Ask NM Lab to Spare Monkeys’ and Beagles’ Lives

FDA Approves Alternative to Animal Testing for Botox

 

Photo credit: audrey sel via flickr

185 comments

Camilla V
Camilla Vaga5 days ago

noted

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Steven W
Steven W3 months ago

I think that is really wrong.

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Debbi -
Debbi -3 months ago

Just as well there is no federal oversight here. If there was Trump would have shutdown that, too.

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Renata B
Renata B3 months ago

Sofia E.: maybe you can offer yourself for next experiment and before dying you can let us other know how you felt about it. At the beginning of the 20th cen in the US they infected black people with syphilis to see how they reacted. Mendele - in the Nazi camps was also a very curious person and do, he didn't stop in front of anything.

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Renata B
Renata B3 months ago

Worse than Frankenstein. Among primates we definitely are the man ape.

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d mallender
d mallender3 months ago

Its very regulated and cells are not allowed to grow beyond a certain time.

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Carl R
Carl R3 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Aleksandra Popovic
Aleksandra Popovic3 months ago

Dreadful practices.
And senseless. The research should go into the direction of preventing the number of diseases they talk about and not messing around with nature. None of those so-called scientists have a clue of the results of their experiments. But avid in playing god or something. This should be rigorously regulated not to say completely forbidden.

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx3 months ago

Sofia E. Autopsy was indeed forbidden in the past. But now you are speaking about the middle ages. This is roughly 600 / 700 years ago. And it was forbidden because the Catholic Church said so, who had much more impact on the daily live / politics / science, etc. then they have now. I am pleased that this has changed. Why ?? Because by doing an autopsy on a DEAD person who has had a particular disease, can bring more information to the scientists, possibly resulting in the creation of other medication, other treatments, aso. And I repeat : autopsy was done on DEAD people and animals. Not on LIVING animals, be it humans or something else. Recently in a local debate in Belgium I also expressed my disgust and anxiety about breeding new races of dogs. Do you know what the outcome will be of mixing a Danish with a German Shepherd ?? What about diseases? what about character ? what about disabilities, and what about the next generations ? There are already enough breeds of dogs, who have a physical disability, because of searching for the longest / shortest legs, the form of their noses and mouths, etc. that they need treatments for their entire life, or of which 95 % has to be operated to ease the suffering. In nature, some animals have been breeding hybrids, such as horses with donkeys, but their number is very limited, and above all, they belong to the same family. You will never find in

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sheena a
sheena a4 months ago

idk....

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